Statistical Investigation: Jeurys Familia

A FanGraphs article in 2017 titled “The Death of the Sinker” ended with this quote: “I don’t think the sinker’s gone,” [Jared] Hughes said. “I think teams might be trying to find a way to focus on velocity, but in my opinion, the sinker is the best pitch in baseball.”

This season, for Mets reliever Jeurys Familia, that has not been the case. Though his most-used pitch has been the sinker, thrown 47.1% of the time, it has not been his most effective one.

Stat Fact: His ERA is 7.81. That is the 5th highest ERA in Major League Baseball out of 167 qualifying relievers. Plus his BB/9 of 6.83 is also 5th highest in the majors.

Opposing batters are hitting .333 against his sinker, much higher than in the previous four years. (It was .204 in 2015). That is almost 40 points higher than the 2019 League average against sinkers of .294.

Stat Fact: Familia ranked 39th in opposing batting average among relievers who had thrown sinkers to at least 25 batters.

And since 2017, when Familia has thrown his sinker opposing hitters SLG has increased every year from .265 to .377 to .521. That is 256 points. Further, when the first pitch in an at-bat is a sinker, they are hitting .556.

Stat Fact: Familia also ranked 39th in slugging percentage among relievers who had thrown sinkers to at least 25 batters.

Compounding Familia’s problems is that fact that opposing batters have gotten more extra-base hits off his sinker, six, than his other three pitches combined.

Historically, the sinker has been known as the ground ball pitch. As Kepner wrote in his book, K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches, “Its allure was efficiency, not force. Throw it low for ground balls.”

Familia has even had trouble doing that. Since 2016, the percent of his sinkers that have resulted in ground balls has steadily declined.

% of Jeurys Familia’s sinkers that resulted in ground balls

Surprisingly this season, as the GB% for his sinker has dropped, for his four-seam fastball — a pitch he has thrown only 12.9% of the time, it has increased. However, opposing batters are hitting .333 when he throws a four-seamer, the same opposing BA as for his sinker.

Source: Baseball Savant

Team Options

  • Reduce the number of sinkers Familia throws so it is no longer his main pitch. This season, against his slider batters are hitting .212, but he has only thrown it 27.9% of the time. Increase its usage.
  • Have him throw his four-seam fastball in place of his slider.
  • Determine whether a physical issue might be either causing or contributing to his pitching problems.

Update: The Mets have placed Familia on the 10-day injured list with a Bennett lesion for the second time this season. According to the book Baseball Sports Medicine, it is an “overuse” injury that can affect both shoulders and elbows. “Nonoperative treatment” includes rest, activity modification, and rehabilitation.” For more information on this injury and Familia’s earlier placement in May on the injured list, see Anthony DiComo’s article.